Sue Runkle, the Billings School District 2 homeless education liaison, is retiring after 21 years.
Family, friends and co-workers from the schools, agencies and nonprofits came out to celebrate with Runkle at Danwalt Gardens on Friday, when she talked about successes and rewards of helping children and families.
"It's kind of mixed emotions because the excitement of what's the next step and then the sadness or the feeling of leaving something I absolutely love doing," Runkle said.
Runkle worked as a teacher in Wyoming before starting the homeless education program in 2001.
She has worked with thousands of students over the years and enjoys the rewards from some of them today.
"I don't know if I would have been able to continue this if you wouldn't have had successes along the way," she said. "You need those to keep you going because there's so much with the families that stress and that."
She said the number of homeless students is higher this year because of COVID and housing prices. And through the years, more than 500 students may be homeless at any time.
"Sometimes they're homeless maybe for a month," Runkle said. "Sometimes they're homeless all school year. But we keep them in the same school. It's called school of origin. And so we have that stability for them."
Backpack Meals, Teen Pantries, and other programs and help have been available to families.
"The parent or the student tells me they don't want anybody else to know, it's it's basically just whoever needs to know," she said.
Kevin Brook will take over the homeless education liaison position next school year, and the office will be moved from Washington Elementary School to Riverside Middle School.
"He will be phenomenal," Runkle said. "We're excited for him to take over. I feel really good about it."
Even though Runkel is retiring, she still has the passion for working with students.
"I like to quit when I'm still loving it," Runkle said.